KEARNEY — University of Nebraska at Kearney volleyball held its first preseason practice Monday morning at the Health and Sports Center.
Returning to the NCAA tournament for the 21st consecutive season is the top priority for the Lopers, especially after last season’s stunning first-round exit in the regional as the No. 1 seed on their home court.
"We have been going after it all summer so to finally practice again – everyone is on edge and excited for practice to begin," said senior outside hitter Julianne Jackson, a team captain.
This season’s team is slightly different than last year’s roster. The Lopers have to replace four seniors – setter Lindsey Smith, outside hitter Kendall Schroer, libero Ellie McDonnell and defensive specialist Morgan Stute – and have a large class of newcomers with nine freshmen and two transfers.
The four seniors from last year’s team played critical roles in the starting lineup, but the Lopers believe they can overcome those departures with the development of returning players and contributions from newcomers.
"I think this team is going to be different just because we are all new and it’s just a different dynamic," junior right side hitter M.K. Wolfe said. "I think it will be different without them. You can’t replace them, but I think it’ll be different than last year."
With all the new additions, Jackson and junior co-captain Madi Squiers made it a priority throughout the summer to hold captain’s practices and team-bonding events.
The Lopers also have a two-day retreat to Colorado Springs, Colo. on Wednesday and Thursday, which will allow for additional time for the players to develop team chemistry on and off the court.
"You just learn to play in a new and different way," Jackson said. "I think we have a lot of great players."
The Lopers play Division I Wyoming in a scrimmage Aug. 24 in Cheyenne, Wyo. Coach Rick Squiers scheduled the exhibition match because the Lopers don’t have a nonconference road contest this year.
The Lopers open the regular season against Adams State on Sept. 6. They will play nine nonconference home matches before beginning MIAA play.
Although the Lopers have qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the last 20 seasons, they haven’t advanced out of the first round since 2012.
"I just want our team to get past that hump," Wolfe said. "I think everyone feels that same way. We kind of have this chip on our shoulders that’s been on there for a long time. We just want to brush it off and move past it."